Trump’s Contemptible War Powers Veto

Originally appeared at The American Conservative.

The president once again showed his contempt for the Constitution with his veto of another war powers resolution yesterday:

President Trump vetoed a Senate resolution on Wednesday that would have required him to seek congressional authorization before taking military action against Iran, rejecting a rare effort by the chamber to curb his authority and reasserting broad power to use military force.

In a statement released by the White House, Mr. Trump portrayed the measure as not only an encroachment on his presidential powers but also a personal political attack.

“This was a very insulting resolution, introduced by Democrats as part of a strategy to win an election on November 3 by dividing the Republican Party,” the president said. “The few Republicans who voted for it played right into their hands.”

The president talks about Congress’ assertion of its constitutional authority as if they were guilty of lèse-majesté. Americans have allowed presidents to wage illegal wars so often and for so long that it was probably just a matter of time before one of them took for granted that his war powers were effectively unlimited. A president who didn’t want to be able to start a war on his own would have no objection to the resolution passed by Congress. The resolution was a bipartisan one, and it was introduced to prevent the president from taking it upon himself to start a war with Iran without Congressional approval. The fact that he takes offense at this resolution reflects both his absurdly absolutist ideas about the powers of the presidency and his willingness to order illegal military action. The illegal assassination that the president ordered at the start of the year was not the first time that Trump has trampled on the Constitution to launch illegal attacks on other governments, and as long as he is in office it won’t be the last. His previous veto of the antiwar resolution on Yemen already proved that he had no respect for Congress’ role in matters of war, and the latest veto confirms it.

The president’s statement makes a number of false claims, including an assertion that the illegal assassination of Soleimani was covered by the 2002 Iraq war authorization. There is no honest reading of that resolution that supports this interpretation. The resolution reaffirms that the president does not have the authority to initiate hostilities without Congressional authorization, and Trump completely rejects that fundamental constitutional principle:

In his statement, Mr. Trump argued that Congress had overstepped its bounds, saying that the resolution “implies that the president’s constitutional authority to use military force is limited to defense of the United States and its forces against imminent attack.”

“That is incorrect,” he added.

Trump goes beyond this to claim that the president is essentially free to wage preventive war whenever he thinks it necessary:

We live in a hostile world of evolving threats, and the Constitution recognizes that the President must be able to anticipate our adversaries’ next moves and take swift and decisive action in response. That’s what I did!

Except to protect against an imminent attack, taking “anticipatory” military action is illegal. It is not only a violation of the U.N. Charter, but it also represents an egregious power grab by the executive at the expense of the people’s representatives. Trump would like to be able to order illegal attacks and then present Congress with a fait accompli. That is an attack on our form of government and an insult to every American who honors the Constitution.

It shouldn’t surprise us that he has the gall to accuse Congress of overreaching when they try to rein in his constitutional violations. Trump spits on the Constitution with the attack he ordered back in January, and he spits on it again with his veto.

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter. This article is reprinted from The American Conservative with permission.